Friday, March 5, 2010

Gamble House: How do we resolve this? My thoughts

The saving of the Historic Gamble House is clearly a watershed moment in Cincinnati preservation. It has raised the passions of an entire city and many people who never understood why preservationists want to save our historic structures, suddenly do, as they have the perfect example of why our architectural history is important. Even if you know nothing about architecture people understand why this house has a place in History.

The biggest issue is how to save it? The issue is complex. Green Acres Foundation, which does many good things in the community can not seem to find a use for it that dovetails in with their own mission. Pro-Preservation groups like Westwood Historic, CPA Westwood Civic and Westwood Concern are equally stymied as due to covenant agreements established by the Nippert trust its use is severely restricted. SO the question becomes how do we save this structure AND find a constructive use that will tie to the goals and mission of Green Acres Foundation.

I have a solution and I call it the Gamble Historic Estate Gardens for Community Initiative:

Under this proposal Gamble House would be jointly held by Westwood Historic and Green Acres Foundation. Westwood Historic with the technical assistance of CPA would develop a plan to restore the EXTERIOR of the Gamble House and raise funds for its restoration. A new roof, porch restoration and repair, painting of the exterior of the house. The first floor would be restored to the era in which Gamble owned it. So when viewed from the OUTSIDE it would look both occupied and period authentic.

The Gamble House would not be open to the public. It would not operate as a house museum,
but rather be a"centerpiece", a focal point for the new Gamble Historic Estate Gardens.
The area around the Gamble Mansion would be developed into period gardens using primarily native plants. Other parts of the garden would be used to do field trials of hybrids. Brick walkways would tie various Garden areas together and those walkway bricks would be engraved with the names of donors. The money donated for walkway bricks would be used as a sustaining fund for future maintenance of Gamble house. Signs throughout the garden would not only talk about period gardening but would also explain the History of the Gamble family and Westwood. organizations like P&G and other could be corporate sponsors of various gardens.

One of the big issues in economically challenged neighborhoods of the Westside is how to instill a sense of community pride. How to get people and especially their children, to take pride and a sense of "ownership" in their neighborhood. Part of that sense of pride is establishing neighborhood identities and improving "blight conditions' in the neighborhood by planting flower beds in public right of way area in neighborhoods as well as community gardens and thumbnail parks that allow residents to have common areas within the community.

When local youth work within their neighborhoods on planting they have a sense of Ownership plus they interact with other residents. The purpose of the Gamble Estate Gardens would be to train area youth in horticulture by helping maintain and develop the gardens. The seeds and plants grown in the garden could be provided to area neighborhood groups on the Westside for neighborhood improvement projects and the youth trained at the Gamble Estate Gardens could act as team leaders on these projects. This could be expanded into an area youth work project where underprivileged neighborhood youth could make summer money working on Westside
beautification projects with flowers provided by the Gamble Estate Gardens. This is an idea BOTH sides can agree is needed.

In addition to their Gardening work the Historic Society Could teach area youth about the history of the city and its architecture. This helps create a new generation who understands the
value of historic preservation to the City of Cincinnati. Area youth will see their neighborhood differently and take a greater sense of pride in it.

The Gamble Estate Gardens could be open to the public as well The Gamble Estate Gardens could act as "welcome center" for Green Acres and its projects. The Gamble Estate Gardens would be both focal point for Green Acres and the Community of Westwood.

I believe with the framework outlined above BOTH sides could come to the table and reach compromise that will allow the Gamble house to stand, and be maintained and provide a backdrop for the kind of worthwhile project Green Acres is known for.
It is the kind of Project Mr Gamble, being the Civic minded man he was, would approve of and it preserves the Gamble legacy. It utilizes the house within the restrictions of the covenant as well.

I urge BOTH sides to come to the table around this proposal.


Ann said...

Great job, Paul! Love it!

Karen Anne said...

How do the covenant agreements established by the Nippert trust restrict it's use?

Oddly enough, there is a Gamble Gardens in Palo Alto, CA ( which does much the same as you're proposing. The centerpiece historic house and grounds were left to the city by the former owner.

But they do get rental income from weddings, etc. in the gardens, and the house is partly restored inside and I think the public has access to that for such functions.